Best Law Firms for Women: Interview with Liz Klingensmith

Posted: Nov 28  |  By: Sharon McLaughlin

As a sponsor of Working Mother Media’s Best Law Firms for Women event, Parker + Lynch Legal is proud to support these firms and the women who dedicate themselves to both their legal profession and their families. To help honor these incredible women, we interviewed female attorneys with some of the 2018 winners to get their perspective on being a working mother. This week, we’re featuring:

Why did you decide to become an attorney?

Growing up, I never dreamed of being a lawyer. Music was my thing. I studied music and English at Rice. After I graduated, I wanted to pursue a career in the nonprofit world and joined Houston Ballet to help with fundraising events and programs. Although rewarding and fun, I knew I needed to consider other career paths. I knew very little about the business world and thought I would be able learn about more opportunities by taking a job with an executive search firm. We recruited a lot of attorneys, and I began thinking that maybe I could do law school. So, I took the LSAT, and was accepted into the University of Houston Law Center.

I loved law school—the reading, writing, critical thinking, and analysis. I knew I wanted to be a litigator the moment I stepped out of my first moot court round. Litigating is all about working with witnesses and evidence to put together a creative and persuasive story. I enjoy being able to influence and persuade other people to see my client’s point of view.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the legal field?

As a woman, gaining credibility through effective communication and navigating a way into the “club” can be very challenging. How do you persuade people when you’re the only woman at the table? How do you create opportunity for yourself in an industry dominated by men? Communicate effectively, step out of your comfort zone, and meet people where they are.

Men and women communicate differently. I always watch, listen, and pay close attention to how effective leaders, business generators, and practitioners, both men and women, communicate. Three communication tools that I use all the time are: Listen more, talk less. Validate and empathize. Be clear and direct. Let me give you an example:

Earlier in my career, a partner at my firm asked me to call a client and work through discovery requests. I was busy, and knew that I had to be efficient to get everything accomplished. I hadn’t worked with this client before and didn’t know what to expect. I made the call. For the next ten minutes, I listened to the client rant about how he didn’t want to respond to this or that, how he wouldn’t respond at all, how unfair everything was, how much he disliked so and so. I didn’t say a word. I just listened until the line went silent. Then I asked him, “do you feel better?” After a surprised pause he said, “why yes, yes, I do.” And I said very directly, “good, here’s what we’re going to do.” And we got it done. He still tells that story to this day.

There’s still the challenge of breaking into the “club.” I don’t expect to be invited on hunting trips, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to go, but every once in awhile there is an opportunity to meet the guys on their turf. And it usually requires stepping out of my comfort zone.

Recently, a client invited me to a sporting clay shoot for charity. I’d never shot a gun, and felt pretty sure that I’d embarrass myself. But I accepted anyway. When I arrived the next morning, I found myself in a sea of men with shotguns, souped up golf carts, and tons of “gear.” I immediately knew ballet flats were a bad choice. But I really listened, learned, and managed to shoot a clay at every stop! Not bad. I actually enjoyed myself and made meaningful professional connections. I stepped way outside of my comfort zone and it paid off!

What has been your greatest success, or what accomplishment are you most proud of, and why?

Oil and gas still falls short in the diversity category.  Most of the time I’m the only woman in the room.  Over time, I have become a trusted and strategic advisor to my clients in the oil and gas industry. Building those relationships by establishing trust and credibility with my clients is by far and away the accomplishment that I am most proud of.

Why do you love working for Blank Rome? How do they support women and their goals?

I cannot say enough good things about the opportunities and support Blank Rome provides women. Blank Rome participated in a hackathon hosted by Diversity Lab and implemented one of its pilot programs called the “Mansfield Rule.” Arabella Mansfield was the first woman admitted to the practice of law in the United States. As a result of the program, women and diverse attorneys must make-up at least 30 percent of the candidate pool for firm leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions, and lateral positions.

The firm also piloted a Women’s Business Development Academy for a group of women partners. Through the program, women partners work with an outside business development coach and collaborate together on business development. In September, Blank Rome hosted its inaugural Women’s Leadership Summit where women clients and women partners “hacked” through issues related to collaboration between outside and in-house counsel, contributing to our communities, and diversity and inclusion. Together we developed solutions to those issues.  The firm plans to launch the winning hackathon ideas as pilot programs this year. Women are natural collaborators. Blank Rome creates opportunities for us to harness that strength and create pathways for our collective success.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to women struggling to balance their home life and their careers?

Mindfulness is essential to success. Be fully present in the moment whether at work or at home, and let go of the guilt. I used to feel guilty at the office because I wasn’t home with my family, and guilty at home because I wasn’t at the office. Eventually, I started letting go of the guilt, and worked on staying engaged and focused whether at home or at work.

There will be times when work requires you to spend extra hours at the office and less time with your family; that just happens. But there’s room to make choices based on what you value. I’ll give you an example. With trial less than a week away, I was spending a lot of time at the office and away from home. A couple of nights before jury selection, my son had his very first cello concert. I simply had to be there. I brought up the conflict with my trial team. The work got covered and I didn’t miss that first concert. I sent a picture along with a big thank you to my team. We didn’t miss a beat and I didn’t miss that concert. Practicing mindfulness and making value-based decisions means I can be my best self at work and at home.